Suburban leaders blast possible Chicago 'congestion tax'

 
 
Updated 9/19/2015 4:59 PM
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  • Would suburbanites reconsider driving into Chicago if they had to pay a commuter tax?

    Would suburbanites reconsider driving into Chicago if they had to pay a commuter tax? Associated Press

Suburban officials and lawmakers say a Chicago alderman's idea to tax suburbanites who dare drive on city streets would likely backfire.

According to Michael Sneed in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke recently persuaded Mayor Rahm Emanuel "to study the feasibility and logistics of collecting a congestion fee from suburbanites who drive into the city." The move could raise millions for the city and keep cars off city streets, easing congestion.

A panel has since been tasked with determining how such a fee would be collected, where it could be collected, and the costs of operating such a program.

State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, called the plan a terrible idea Saturday.

"If Chicago is going to talk about raising money, they should be encouraging everyone to visit, not discouraging everyone who drives in," McSweeney said. "This congestion tax currently being discussed is an absolutely terrible idea that would hurt Chicago and the state by, ultimately, making Chicago less competitive."

Calls to Emanuel's office were not returned Saturday. Burke could not be reached for comment.

In the Sun-Times, Burke was quoted as saying a congestion tax has been "extremely successful" in European cities such as London. There, drivers pay a charge for being able to enter certain zones from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Cameras monitor the zones and drivers who don't pay are fined.

About 194,000 vehicles drive to Chicago's main business district each day from elsewhere in the city and the suburbs, according to a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning study conducted before Feb. 2010.

One of those drivers, Sean Grogan, of Glendale Heights, said such a tax would definitely cut down the number of trips he makes each week for work and to visit his parents and family in Wrigleyville.

"For work, my employer would have to absorb that cost for me for it to work," he said. "And it would be another reason for those friends and family to come visit me, instead of me going to the city."

Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk acknowledged his city has public transportation options with a Metra station in the heart of its downtown. But he called the suggestion counterproductive.

"Sure, it would probably reduce traffic but the double-edged sword to that is the possibility that it would also drive a lot of business out of the city into the suburbs," Gresk said. "A responsible municipality would look to where their budget could be cut, and there's always services that can be cut, before doing something along these lines."

State Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, said instituting such a "head tax" would be "counterproductive" and "ridiculous."

"Not only would it hurt the city by keeping a lot of people away, but it would be very difficult to put in place," Moylan said. "How would they collect it? Are they putting tollways on the highways leading in now?"

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said he hopes the city proceeds cautiously.

"The suburbs contribute to Chicago's economy in many ways," Chirico said. "I hope Chicago's leaders will be cautious as they seek to find financial solutions and that they consider the consequences of shifting the cost of their responsibilities onto the suburbs."

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